Sunday, May 01, 2016

On Trust

Jean P. Purcell

A Christian may write or tell of spiritual experiences hard for unbelievers to comprehend. One explanation for this is that the difficulty lies in an unbeliever's incapacity to experience what faith makes possible. Such an answer could seem arrogant. It also could mislead. Not every Christian experiences faith in identical ways. 
An unbeliever can experience what they might call God without going further to explore what that means. In a frightening situation, I simply knew there was a Presence. After the crisis, no searching to understand unless, perhaps, in another crisis, the Presence was palpable. 
When that happens to the Christian or the unbeliever, one message might be gleaned: Fear not

Fear not, for I am with you. Be not afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; yes, I will help you; yes, I will hold you up with My righteous right arm.
--Isaiah 41.10

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Tussles of Faith

Jean P. Purcell


Tussles of faith are bouts of strong questions to God, for understanding in complicated times. In tussling with God, I speak to him, not about him, and I believe he will give an answer. I don't know when or where, but an answer or insight will come. When that happens, I see again that myself alone could not reveal that. If you want another idea about tussles, I would say that mine remind me of my picture of Jacob wrestling with an angel. He was wrestling with God, with heaven. What prompted him was spiritual, earthly, and private.

I used to tussle with God much more than I do now. I learned over years he always comes through for me and others in the hardest times if one stays steady in faith and does not wrest the issue from God's hands. God has also surprised me with the way things have turned out when I have laid all on the line, by faith.  

Look at the world now - every horrible thing we can think of, and more, is happening. In the not-so-distant past, a spreading tsunami killed 250,000 people. Life ended in seconds and a few hours for so many thousands of people. The earth itself is trembling, quaking, groaning, and records show this as nearly a current state around the world. Threats of global hunger, warming climates, and droughts bombard documentaries. I wonder, how can a young person bear such widely spread information or prognostication daily?

"Wars and rumors of wars" is biblical language, and the facts are in our faces, as has been the case for every generation. Now, however, the pace seems to pick up. Fear abounds over terrorist plots, globally. Paris killings happened only three weeks ago. It seems like yesterday. Then San Bernadino, CA, was hit less than two weeks ago, the second deadliest terrorists' attack since 9-11, I heard.

Media reporting often increases fears after the fact. We hear of many "first ever" and "never before" and other "worst ever" events. Geneva, Switzerland, had terrorist hunts last week. One journalist said that the city was on edge and "for the first time" officers in peaceful Geneva carried rifles openly. When I first visited Geneva, 1986, I noticed military vehicles on the grass alongside the runway. Inside the airport, officers walked with weapons at the ready, gripped double-handed, pointed sideways and down.

Harkening back to the Ottoman Empire, whose inroads in Europe were pushed back after WWI (the part played eventually by Turkey is interesting reading) today's terrorist militia aim for a new, global caliphate. They target civilians and military people and gain ground through terror cells. Intentions to bring about a global caliphate with mini-caliphates are deadly serious. However, as happened when Churchill warned about coming disaster prior to World War II, many hearing today's news refuse to believe that it could overtake "us." This is a view expressed by some leaders in the U.S. Yet, every "little" success by caliphate disciples advances control against freedom. Ignoring the actions of nation-grabbing enemies could transform the future in dark and vicious ways. Europe and America woke up almost too late, in Hitler's day.  

Old wounds are often not allowed to heal in today's world. Louder voices and growing numbers of people today protest and seek revenge or citizen justice, while circles of suspicion expand. "We demand" is a theme now threatening university and community safety and, possibly, institutional survival sometimes. As has been said before, there is a big price to pay when ignoring damage done by small successes of chaotic actions.  

Any of those reports can start another of my "tussles" with God, crying out to him in fear, complaint and questions. I am not alone in this. The biblical psalms are full of this. I read in them the same problems we learn about today, including the wicked prospering, the evil succeeding, the wealthy growing in power and ambition. I read of foolish people following what is wrong and good people suffering for it. I see strong chaos and weakening responsibility and duty.

I pray more as I read about Then, Now, and the Future: 

"'Vengeance is mine,' says the LORD."
"Forgive your enemies," says Jesus,
"Pray for those who spitefully use you."
"Trust in the LORD and do not lean on your own understanding."
"...I am with you always," said Jesus.
He also said, "I am coming again, in the last days."

All war will cease. All abuse will end. All disease and pride will be finished. The Kingdom of our God will reign in a new heaven and earth. "Every knee shall bow, every tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord."

Are we ready for that great and glorious Day, you and I? Are we praying unceasingly, wherever we are, whatever we are doing? From such times flow the works of Christ in and through us, for us and for others. There will also be a Day of Judgment, no question about it. It will attend to wickedness done on the earth in high and low places; there will be no chance to bargain or seek parole. I do not know if the two days are one, and I do not need theological tussles about that, I am so relieved to say! I just know that only the Son of God, the Advocate, Jesus Christ, will stand with believers at his return and at the court of God's justice. Jesus paid the ransom for every person with faith in him. They "will not perish, but have eternal life." 

It continually amazes that Jesus willingly laid down his life for us to be relieved of our stupid and evil sins...the ransom paid with his own life and blood. "By his stripes we are healed." He rose again from the dead, the First among many of his redeemed heirs and has promised that he prepares, even now, a place for us, "many mansions." The trusting homeless and the innocent abused might be the first among all. I have read how he honored with his attention the widow who gave to God the last of her earthly coins. I do not argue about anything, nor do I want ever to tussle again with the One who has made great and glorious promises to all of his children.

He gave me a new heart. He transforms my thinking. He forgave me my wrongs toward others. In addition, toward him, Almighty God, omniscient and glorious. He draws me with his love so deeply revealed through Christ, regarding his suffering and dying on the rugged, cruel cross of Calvary; he proved himself at the empty tomb. He proves himself every day to those who believe in him. "He [God] has given us everything we need for life and godliness through His Son... ."

I want to be among his throngs at my last moment or on that Last Day, however it happens.  Meanwhile, I'm reading a book that reminds me that people near imprisonment, torture, and death...regular Europe in 1938, finally knew that a terrible darkness was on its way and would soon engulf them and the way of life they had known.Then, Hitler's army was marching and flying closer and closer. Today, many real threats punctuate our days and loom closer in larger number. I want to be among those Christians facing the fearful future on earth with one eye on the glorious future God has for us. Nothing can kill our spirit and nothing can rob us of eternal life with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

On this day, I hope for an abundance of Amen to the enduring promises of God.  May his Word go forth in power wherever it is read.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

2015 Thanksgiving Alone?

English: "The First Thanksgiving at Plymo...
English: "The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth" (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Thanksgiving 2015: Thinking for the people of Paris. Thankful for experts that risk their lives to help save others. Thinking of Syria, hoping for refugees to find safe havens. This Thanksgiving Day, there are three of us at home in Maryland. Others in Massachusetts and Tennessee, as well as North Carolina. Older brother in nursing home since earlier this month, in North Carolina. Thankful for the family love that surrounds all.  
Below, Thanksgiving 2012 thoughts, as true today for me in its essence as then, just after Hurricane Sandy. Fitting for this Thanksgiving 2015, after Paris attacks and other tragic events of these times.

My first Thanksgiving Day far from home, I had been living a few weeks, since October 31, in Geneva, Switzerland, because my husband had a new job. That day in Geneva and around the world, most people went about their usual routines with no thought of something called the American Thanksgiving holiday. The day's routine seemed upside down as my husband left for work. I went back to bed. You know, the blues. Thanksgiving. Alone. 
     After a while, I reached for something to read, to lift my thoughts. Slowly, words from the psalms settled into my heart. I read them* over and over again.
When my husband walked into our apartment that evening, it was after 6 PM, Geneva time and just past noon EST - back home. Boo hoo! Our family members were probably gathering around tables for happy feasts--in Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Florida! There was a good evening meal I'd prepared for that night, when he walked in. And we gathered our two selves together and ate it with thanks!    

*O God my Strength! I will sing your praises, for you are my place of safety (Psalm 59);

For wherever I am, though far away at the ends of the earth, I will cry to you for help...for  you are my refuge, a high tower (Psalm 61).

     This Thanksgiving Day is a time to remember people thrown into upheaval. It is a time to remember, with thanks, volunteers who serve others. It is a time to be thankful for survivors in Paris and for families of those who died in the attacks of hate. It is time to give thanks and prayers for those who guard and seek to protect cities and nations. 
     If you are alone reading this, I am thinking of you and people I know who might be alone all day or far from home. I hope the Psalms will help you and them, too. Here's to a blessed Thanksgiving to you, for your life and hopes!

On Thanksgiving, 2012, I wrote: "There remains much work to do after the sweeping devastation of Hurricane Sandy. Volunteers and government workers continue to help. Still there are needs, and this holiday, through Facebook and Internet links, people hit hard by Sandy are being invited to others' homes to share Thanksgiving Day.  
     "This Thanksgiving Day is a time to remember people thrown into upheaval, along with their homes. It is a time to remember, with thanks, those who serve, including volunteers who may not be home this Thanksgiving, and also the New York City mayor, New York state senators and NYC's representatives."

Copyright (c) 2012, 2015 Opinari Writers. Do you like this blog? Join, Tweet, FB, Like, or Recommend it? Thank you.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A Memorable Smokies Break-away

Hey there! My husband, Jim, and I are in the Great Smoky Mountains this week, having good days near Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Jim is giving a fresh look to all of his book manuscript, Hope of the Phoenix: How three presidents saved millions of refugees in a conflicted world. When not sleeping, I read, think, and do a little Internet surfing. We get together on our condo's patio that faces mountains - for refreshing change of pace every afternoon. We soak in the fresh air and watch more leaves turn their bright, dying colors. 

This morning, I listened to Pope Francis's address to the U.S. Congress. I felt moved by the four Americans he chose for focus - President Abraham Lincoln (a man of peace and reconciliation), Martin Luther King, Jr. (a man of dreams and daring), Dorothy Day (a woman of social conscience and action on behalf of the poor and neglected), and Thomas Merton (a man of prayer and contemplation). All remained open to God and the work of God in individual and national life.

At lunch time, Jim and I went down the mountain to a barbecue lunch that was scrumptiously diverse. There were chicken and pork barbecue, baked beans with dark molasses taste (yum!), coleslaw, cold pasta salad, potatoes, and huge bread rolls. We did not taste everything, but I decided to dig in on the pork, baked beans, coleslaw, and pasta salad - four choices enough to take me well past dinner! Oh, and beverage choices including unsweetened and sweetened iced tea.  I think of it as Tennessee Tea.

We sat beside a swimming pool across the way before taking a shuttle back to the top of the mountain with our heads full of interesting conversations with other "take a break"-ers on the shuttle, at lunch, and as we walked around and saw now-familiar faces. We learned that Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where we once lived, is being made into a national park. We'll try to get over there before we depart this gorgeous state of many family memories.

Now I'm ready to post a link to Jim's 2002 monograph, The Perils of Unresolved Humanitarian Problems, with preface update, now a 2015 Kindle Direct ebook

Here's hoping you are getting ready for a relaxing weekend, or at least a few relaxing, contemplative, active hours. See you soon, friends.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

SYRIA - Hearts go out to the country of Paul's day

A zealot, Saul of Tarsus, in Jerusalem

In the first century when Jesus was born, a devout Orthodox Jew journeyed from Jerusalem's persecution of Christians to Damascus (Syria) to persecute more Christians. On the way the Lord confronted him. It was a conversion like all conversions to Christ--individual, unique, highly personal and transforming.

Paul, saved by God, goes to Arabia

Later, this man, once called Saul and then Paul as a devoted follower of Jesus Christ, went to Jerusalem and was not accepted by the apostles, because as Saul he had persecuted Christians.

He left for Arabia to study in what some call the school of the Holy Spirit. What was "Arabia" to Paul? N. T. Wright, in Paul, Arabia, and Elijah (Galatians 1:17) proposed that "Paul went where Elijah went. He went to Mount Sinai .... The word 'Arabia' is very imprecise in Paul's day, covering the enormous area to the south and east of Palestine; but one thing we know for sure is that for Paul 'Arabia' was the location of Mount Sinai."(See paragraph 11 in N.T. Wright article linked above.)

Mount Sinai, also called Mount Horeb, is on the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt. If N.T. Wright's reasoning is correct, that is where Paul went, that triangular, arid, desert region of Egypt, between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea.

Paul travels back to Damascus

From Arabia, Paul returned to Damascus: "In the Galatian letter in 1:17-18 Paul clearly states that upon his return from Arabia he came back to the city of Damascus. Exactly how long Paul’s stay in Arabia lasted is not clear, but combined with his return visit to Damascus was a period of three years." (Tracing the Steps of Paul)

His visit to Caesarea, then Syria

Next, Paul went to Jerusalem, then Caesarea. Then, again, he went into Syrian regions:

"... Upon Paul’s departure from Caesarea, Luke tells us in Acts 9:30 that he was sent forth to Tarsus. It would be logical to conclude on the basis of his route that on his way back home to Tarsus this is when he stopped by different cities and visited brethren in the Roman province of Syria. Paul referred to this in Galatians 1:21." (Tracing the Steps of Paul)

Consider the capital, Damascus, then and now

Some say that Damascus existed 1,000 years or more before the birth of Christ, surviving takeovers by different empires. Three hundred years before the birth of Jesus, Damascus was a large Muslim caliphate. By the time of Jesus' birth, the Roman Empire ruled Damascus. 

After the crucifixion of Jesus, and when Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, he could safely travel into Damascus; he was a Roman citizen. Damascus in those days was a thriving city of architectural, artistic, and trade interests.

The Christian community across Syria is one of the world's oldest, going back to the days of the Apostles. "... and there are Christians of today that speak Aramaic. In northern Syria, near the city of Aleppo, the historic Church of St Simeon Stylites the mountains west of Homs is the castle of Krak des Chevaliers, which was a fortress for the Knights Hospitaller during the Crusades." The castle is now badly damaged, bombed by government jets after it was used as a base by rebels in Syria's civil war. (Middle East)

In 2015, in the Syrian province of Hassakeh in February, hundreds of Christians are feared to have been kidnapped by the militants. Senior Christian clerics have also been kidnapped by unknown gunmen. Suspicion for the abductions has fallen on the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate. "While their community faces a clear threat from the extremists of the Nusra Front and Islamic State, Christian men have been fighting in the multi-layered conflict - either alongside Kurdish militias or alongside relatively secular rebel factions, or government forces." (Syria's beleaguered Christians)

Christian and Muslim Syrians 

The apostle Paul nurtured believers wherever he journeyed, including his travels through Syria. Christians today are descendants of millennia of Syrian believers in Jesus Christ. Only five years ago, Syrian Christians made up about 10%, or 4.4 million, of the country's population. 

During on-going war and fighting in and beyond Damascus, neighborhoods are made into rubble and many sites destroyed, including the Aleppo mosque, northern Syria, shown below, debris hanging and repair seeming to lie far into the future, if at all. 
Aleppo mosque damage: Aleppo's iconic Umayyad Mosque in ruins
 Aleppo mosque in rubble. Photo source and ownership: Copyright (c) The Guardian. Share with attribution.

Damascus and Jerusalem  

Damascus is an important history location to Christians around the world; it was where God began to teach a new Jewish disciple of Jesus Christ and to call him to preach to the Gentiles. That was the apostle Paul, once known as Saul of Tarsus.

Let's pray for peace in Syria and for the displaced Christians and Muslims. The persecuted are Christians who resisted threats and fled for their lives due to their faith and the ongoing conflicts in Syria. Let us pray for places of safe asylum for all, until they can return home in peace.  May those who follow Christ be encouraged by those who meet, feed, and house them. 

Jerusalem was the city where Paul, who had persecutied the church as Saul, was at first under strong suspicion by church leaders. Jerusalem was where Paul was tested and accepted as a true believer, willing to suffer for the gospel. 

Let us pray for the peace of Jerusalem, beset on every side, yet helping Syrian refugees. Let us learn biblical teaching about Jerusalem, including prophecies, and watch and pray that all will be fulfilled.

     For, "In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay." Hebrews 10:37